From Captive Audience to Lifetime Friend
While the definition of ‘young alumni’ varies by institution, one common factor across all institutions is their importance for future success, both programmatically and financially. Building a lifetime relationship with recent graduates takes strategic programming, clever communication and a dedicated staff.
Young alumni are brand ambassadors for the institution and should be cultivated from the day they step foot on campus. Here we delve into understanding integral aspects of young alumni programming:
Engage Current Students – It is never too early to educate students on the benefits of becoming an alumnus, including the vast network they will join upon graduation, as well as the financial support alumni provide.
- Create opportunities for current students to interact with alumni. Consider inviting students to attend alumni programming at Reunion Weekend, organize a day of service for alumni and students, or host a career festival featuring recent graduates.
- Set giving expectations prior to graduation. Students unknowingly benefit from alumni financial support and what better time to educate them on the tangible benefits they enjoy thanks to the financial contributions of alumni? Educate students on the tuition gap and any services or programs developed from alumni funding.
Diversify Channels of Communication & Engagement – Generation Y alumni are communication junkies. No single channel of communication is guaranteed to reach young alumni; so multiple touch points are essential to engaging this varied group. In keeping with their varying preferences on communication, programming must also be creative and unique.
- Thoughtful communication sends a clear message. Create a communications plan which incorporates social media, e-newsletters, emailed invitations, surveys, snail mail and website visits. According to a 2012 report compiled by the Millennial Impact Project, “65 percent of respondents said they prefer to get information about organizations via their websites, The next highest – 55 percent – said they rely on social media, and 47 percent said they want updates via e-newsletters.”
- Provide engagement opportunities outside of traditional event attendance. Encourage alumni to join the Alumni Association by demonstrating the benefits of becoming a member – offer discounted rates for young alumni.
- Create a Young Alumni Committee on the Alumni Board. As with the Alumni Association, provide opportunities for young alumni to effect change at the institution. Young Alumni Committees are excellent cultivation tools and can be the first step in forming a lifelong relationship. Plan events reflective of ever changing young alumni interests. Young alumni want to connect with other alumni who share similar memories and experiences, whether that’s conversing about a tenured instructor or athletic accomplishments. Programming must be reflective of these shared experiences. School traditions are excellent opportunities to revive memories, but should not be the sole young alumni event. Event calendaring might include career and life networking events, community service activities and social outings.
Create an Environment of Giving – For young alumni, giving to, or at least being solicited by charitable organizations is commonplace. What sets apart these donors from more mature donors can be defined by a few key ideas:
- Explore trendy giving solutions. Online giving via institutional website is a must have. In addition to traditional online giving, invest time in exploring crowd funding.
- Build Peer-to-peer solicitation model. Young alumni volunteers are cost effective and can provide insight into class dynamics and preferences. A ‘soft’ ask from a peer is less likely to negatively affect a potential donor than an unrealistic ask from an alumni relations professional.
- Show Gift Impact. According to The Next Generation of American Giving, “About 60% of Gen Y and 50% of Gen X said the ability to see the direct impact of their donation has a significant bearing on their decision to give.” Tangible, visual explanations of gift impact are imperative.
Smart planning and innovative, dynamic programming and communication help bridge the gap from informed current student to engaged young alumni. Young alumni are the future of the organization and dedicating time and energy towards building lifetime relationships with this donor base is crucial to a successful alumni program. Trends should be followed and incorporated into an annual plan, while not losing sight of institutional traditions!
photo credit | Gisela Royo